A budget designed for an election isn’t helping most Canadians

When pressed about the unsustainability of tax measures designed primarily to let wealthy people pay a lot less than their fair share of tax, finance Minister Joe Oliver said, “We will let Stephen Harper’s granddaughter worry about that.”  It was a crass statement that exposed the big problem with a plan to increase the amount people are allowed to hide in tax free savings accounts and the thin strip of the population who will benefit from the new and profoundly unfair, new income splitting measures.  Both of these items were at the centre of this week’s budget, which pretty much marks the beginning of campaigning for October’s federal election.

The budget was presented against a back-drop of struggling communities trying to cope with huge job losses and hard-working Canadians who are finding it more difficult just to make ends meet. The cure for those problems isn’t ham-stringing our economy by excusing wealthy people from participating and it isn’t squeezing our economic base so that the country can only do less for its citizens every year, but that is what the Conservatives are offering.

In pursuing their dodgy economics, the Conservatives have proven they either don’t understand the reality of the situation for most Canadians, or they just don’t care.  They talk non-stop about how their incentives will help families, but in terms of the actual cost of child care versus the amount offered to offset those cost, their position is a real non-starter. 

The new income splitting regime is even worse and financial experts have warned that 85 per cent of Canadians will get nothing at all.  It is a wasteful and unfair policy that will take billions from hard working Canadians who need help more, and hand it over to the richest 15 per cent. This makes no sense when one in two Canadians lives paycheque-to-paycheque and countless others work full time but still fall below the poverty line. 

The Conservative did pick up a few New Democrat proposals in the budget such as lowering the tax rate for small business, or extending EI family-leave benefits to 6 months for people taking care of a loved one, but it is a shame they didn’t steal our idea for $15 a day child care.  That one initiative would do more to help cash strapped families than anything that is in the budget - a budget that ultimately ignores Canadians who need help most.

Among the many dubious claims made about the budget is that it is balanced.  How it was balanced is the shocker.  The Conservatives are planning to maintain higher than necessary Employment Insurance premiums and will use that money to ‘balance’ the budget.  It amounts to a tax on having a job if that money will not be used as insurance for Canadians who pay in and find they are not getting benefits or training like it is meant to be. 

In addition to robbing the EI fund and praying that the price of oil rebounds, the Conservatives have dipped into the contingency ‘rainy day’ fund which is meant for emergencies.  Not many among us would concede that having a balanced budget to campaign on during an election amounts to a national emergency, but the Conservatives have used the fund for that purpose.  In the process they have shown us that they are more concerned with their own fortunes than those of most Canadians.